Jump to content


Photo

Working your way up


  • Please log in to reply
6 replies to this topic

#1 Ethan Vali

Ethan Vali

    New

  • Basic Members
  • Pip
  • 3 posts
  • Student

Posted 30 July 2007 - 06:32 PM

Hello,
I am new at this and have been wondering about what are the steps required to become a cinematographer. Does one have to go from PA, to gripping, to gaffing, to ac, then to cinematographer. Or are there other routes?

Thanks
  • 0

#2 Chris Keth

Chris Keth
  • Sustaining Members
  • 4427 posts
  • 1st Assistant Camera
  • Los Angeles

Posted 31 July 2007 - 12:47 AM

Hello,
I am new at this and have been wondering about what are the steps required to become a cinematographer. Does one have to go from PA, to gripping, to gaffing, to ac, then to cinematographer. Or are there other routes?

Thanks


Generally, people don't go from PA to gripping to electric, et cetera. Most who work their way up do so in one department.
  • 0

#3 Brian Dzyak

Brian Dzyak
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1517 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Encino, California USA

Posted 31 July 2007 - 08:18 AM

Hello,
I am new at this and have been wondering about what are the steps required to become a cinematographer. Does one have to go from PA, to gripping, to gaffing, to ac, then to cinematographer. Or are there other routes?

Thanks



There are two main ways to "become" a cinematography/cameraman/Director of Photography.

The first is to work your way up through the ranks, first as a Loader, then as a Second Camera Assistant (2nd AC), then as a First AC/Focus Puller, then as a Camera Operator until you are "ready" and/or convince someone that you can shoot their project. The positives of this route are that you gain experience working on professional sets with other professionals so that you learn the job and the equipment in a somewhat structured environment. You'll also meet scores of others in every part of the business as you work your way up. You'll also (likely) make decent money that will help you live a comfortable life as you invest your time into working your way up.

The downside to this route is that it can take years and years to work your way up to your goal...assuming you ever reach it. There are plenty of people who work their entire lives as an Assistant or Operator and never make it to the DP level for one reason or another.


Which leads to the other method of becoming a cinematographer and that is to just go out and do it. The upside is that you are a cameraman without going through the years of working as something else (Assistant, Operator). The downsides are that you likely won't know everything that you ideally should so your work and artistry may not be as good as it might be had you spent more time working your way up and learning from other professionals. Also, you won't be shooting high-budget films for quite some time (likely) so your income level won't necessarily afford you as comfortable a life as you may be used to.


Some cameramen do come from working as Gaffers or Grips, but not as often.

What usually happens is that someone will begin on no or low-budget projects (shorts, features, music videos) then eventually join the union (IATSE Local 600) as a Loader or Camera Assistant. While they are doing that and making money, in their time off, they'll go shoot a low-budget project (student film, indy film) in order to practice being a DP. In time, they may move up to being a union Operator where they will sometimes be asked to shoot a "splinter" unit (like a Second Unit) so that they are now "shooting" as a DP while they are working on a larger budget project as an Operator. Those kinds of opportunities coupled with their own side work on low-budget projects in addition to the relationships they've made with Directos, Producers, and other DPs will hopefully lead to the opportunity to be the DP on a large budget project.

There is a lot of luck involved, particularly when it comes to having the opportunities to shoot, but there are a lot of things you can do to improve your own odds instead of just waiting for someone to offer you a job. Work hard, have enthusiasm and perseverance and you will eventually get where you'd like to go...maybe.


Good luck!
  • 0

#4 Simon Miya

Simon Miya
  • Sustaining Members
  • 82 posts
  • Other
  • Portland, OR

Posted 01 August 2007 - 10:56 AM

Generally, people don't go from PA to gripping to electric, et cetera. Most who work their way up do so in one department.


I disagree. 90% of the people I work with every day did some time as a PA. That's where you decide what department you want to be in. That's where you learn set etiquette.

I know plenty of Keys and Bests who will not hire a 100% green crewperson - they insist on SOME set experience. I tend to agree with them. I hate trying to train a loader/2nd that has never been a PA, it greatly increases what you need to teach them before they are useful.

I started as a PA, even though I have a film degree and have never had any desire to be an AD.

Once you do climb all the way to the top, you will be a much more effective leader if you have a better idea what all your soldiers are going through in the trenches. There is no better way to learn what goes on on a set than being a PA.

My opinion aside, the fact is that few people climb through the ranks of this business without PA experience or nepotism, although nepotism often gets you little more than your first PA gig. There are exceptions, to be sure, but I've found them to be rare.
  • 0

#5 Simon Miya

Simon Miya
  • Sustaining Members
  • 82 posts
  • Other
  • Portland, OR

Posted 01 August 2007 - 11:09 AM

Why can I not edit my posts? Rant continued:

Once a department is chosen, people tend to stick to it - although I've seen more than a few instances of grips doing electric and vice versa. But most of those guys did a bit of PA work before choosing either of those departments.

Starting at the top is a different story. There are those that try to be a DP without climbing the ranks. My rant does not apply to them, they are on their own. I don't agree with their career path, but it's their career and best of luck to them. :)
  • 0

#6 Brad Grimmett

Brad Grimmett
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2660 posts
  • Steadicam Operator
  • Los Angeles

Posted 01 August 2007 - 02:23 PM

Once you do climb all the way to the top, you will be a much more effective leader if you have a better idea what all your soldiers are going through in the trenches. There is no better way to learn what goes on on a set than being a PA.

Very true. I learned so much while I was a P.A., and I use some of that knowledge almost every day I'm on set. Learning how a set runs and what each department is doing at any given time is important.
  • 0

#7 Chris Keth

Chris Keth
  • Sustaining Members
  • 4427 posts
  • 1st Assistant Camera
  • Los Angeles

Posted 01 August 2007 - 03:33 PM

I disagree. 90% of the people I work with every day did some time as a PA. That's where you decide what department you want to be in. That's where you learn set etiquette.


My apology. I just poorly worded some things. I just meant that most people don't jump from department to department (example: PA to being an electric, to being a grip, to being an AC). I totally support people starting out as a PA.
  • 0


Paralinx LLC

Opal

Abel Cine

CineLab

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Ritter Battery

Wooden Camera

Visual Products

Technodolly

Willys Widgets

rebotnix Technologies

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

The Slider

CineTape

Metropolis Post

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Aerial Filmworks

Tai Audio

Rig Wheels Passport

FJS International, LLC

Glidecam

Technodolly

Abel Cine

Opal

Visual Products

Paralinx LLC

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Rig Wheels Passport

Willys Widgets

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Ritter Battery

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

The Slider

Glidecam

Wooden Camera

CineLab

rebotnix Technologies

Metropolis Post

FJS International, LLC

Tai Audio

CineTape

Aerial Filmworks